Pool 1: Edinburgh, Munster, Racing Metro, Saracens
• Edinburgh have not been in good form this year despite Tim Visser’s try scoring prowess, and as a result sit 9th in the RaboDirect Pro12 table. However, they know they aren’t going to get relegated and will get a Heineken Cup berth next year, so they’ll probably put their all into the tournament.
• Munster have only done slightly better than Edinburgh in the RaboDirect Pro12 this year and have been inconsistent in their form. That being said, they face similar circumstances as Edinburgh.
• Racing Metro have new signee Olly Barkley on their side which may help them in the long run, but like Edinburgh and Munster, their form hasn’t been that great this season.
• Saracens have had much better performances than their Pool 1 mates and should be the dominate team in the group. They are experienced, play excellent defense and have a bevy of kicking talent.
Fixtures: October 13: Edinburgh vs. Saracens, Racing Metro vs. Munster
Prediction: Wyles and Saracens should have no trouble getting out of this group. To be sure, the other three teams have plenty of skill, but none have the talent that Saracens have.
Pool 2: Toulouse, Leicester, Ospreys, Treviso
• Toulouse have already notched up a big win this year over Toulon. That confidence should help them in what is an extremely tough group. They are very deep and very strong. If their offense gets on a role, opposing teams better watch out. Toulouse and Clermont were the only French teams in the quarterfinals last year.
• Leicester are Leicester. Not much else needs to be said about one of the best teams in Europe. They have plenty of depth and European experience. The question is, like all English clubs, can they hold it together in the league and in the Heineken Cup? They couldn’t last year and it cost them a spot in the quarterfinals.
• The Ospreys may not be the same team from last year and only sit sixth in the table, but they have talent. Dan Biggar has been big all year, and he’ll be needed to put points on the board at every opportunity.
• Treviso have been given a 100-1 shot of making the quarterfinals by some book-makers, but they could still surprise, just as they have done in the RaboDirect Pro12 this year. They sit a surprising eighth about Edinburgh, Connacht, Dragons, and Zebre. If they pull off an upset, anything can happen.
Fixtures: 12 October: Ospreys vs. Benetton; 14 October: Toulouse vs. Leicester
Prediction: This group deserved the title Group of Death, and that was even before people thought Treviso had the capability to knock off good teams. The Ospreys regression this year should be a good thing for Leicester and Toulouse, who should battle it out for first place in the group. Leicester’s league distractions could be their downfall and Toulouse goes through.
Pool 3: Biarritz, Harlequins, Connacht, Zebre
• Biarritz got off to a great start on the season, but have since cooled off considerably. Frankly, the team is lucky to be in the Heineken Cup (they won the Amlin Challenge Cup) after enduring such a horrid campaign last year. However, they did make the finals in 2010 and have the depth to have a strong run.
• Harlequins were the best team in England last year, but that didn’t translate into European success as they missed out on the quarterfinals. This year could be better as they are in a winnable group and have been on good form so far this season. The team currently sits second in the Premiership.
• Connacht have once again struggled in the RaboDirect Pro12. However, like all the other teams in their league, they will be able to concentrate on European play (even though it didn’t help them last year). Although, it likely won’t be enough to match the power of Harlequins and Biarritz
• Zebre are just a bad team. Sorry Zebre fans. No chance of advancing. The best you can hope for is to find a draw somewhere.
Fixtures: 13 October: Zebre vs. Connacht, Harlequins vs. Biarritz
Prediction: This group is looking like it’s going to come down to Biarritz and Harlequins. Usually English teams are up against it in European play, but this Quins team is deep and should get out of the group in first place.
Pool 4: Ulster, Northampton, Glasgow, Castres
• Ulster have been on an absolute tear this year and that should have the rest of their group a little nervous. They sit atop the RaboDirect Pro12 with five wins and no losses. They are deep and can deal with injuries if they happen. Last year the team made it to the final.
• Northampton are the best team in England at the moment and will look to translate that into European success. That’s been a rarity for the team as they failed to get out of their group last year. They certainly have the talent to do it, but it’s going to take a concerted effort to get there.
• Glasgow have once against surprised many people by sitting third in the RaboDirect Pro12. They are a good team, but against strong European teams it’s hard to see them advancing. They already know that they trail Ulster and it’s hard to see them topping either Northampton or Castres.
• Castres aren’t the first team you think of when you think of the Top 14, but they are nevertheless a good team. They currently sit sixth in the table but have plenty of firepower and European experience. They had a horribly campaign last year in the competition and will be looking to improve.
Fixtures: 12 October: Ulster vs. Castres; 14 October: Northampton vs. Glasgow
Prediction: Ulster and Northampton should be the favorites to win the group, with Ulster having the edge due to their ability to pour resources into the tournament. Either way, both teams are also good contenders to grab a quarterfinal spot if they finish second in the group.
Pool 5: Scarlets, Leinster, Exeter, Clermont
• Scarlets are riding high in the RaboDirect Pro12 and sit in second place in the table. That should give them plenty of confidence heading into the pool. Also, the knowledge that they have a now-beatable Leinster in their group should help.
• Leinster are the defending champions and are not about to give up the crown easily. They have a terrific team with a lot of depth. Whether they can stay healthy is another question, but if they can, look for them to make another strong run.
• Exeter look to be the whipping boys of this group, but as they have shown over the last few years, you should never count them out. They already have some big wins in the Premiership and will be looking for similar results in the Heineken Cup (it’s their first time in the tournament).
• Clermont currently sit tied for second in the Top 14 and look to be a strong side. Last year they narrowly lost a semi-final to Leinster and will be gunning to overturn that result this year. The other teams in the group are strong, but Clermont has the quality to top them all.
Fixtures: 13 October: Clarmont vs. Scarlets, Leinster vs. Exeter
Prediction: All the teams in this group are excellent, and this probably deserves to be called the Group of Death due to their relative parity. Leinster have weakened a bit and no one is quite sure if Scarlets are for real right now. Overall, Clermont will win the group.
Pool 6: Toulon, Sale, Montpellier, Cardiff
• Toulon have essentially won everything but European glory, and the high-spenders are looking to change that this year. It’s hard for them to justify spending the amount of money they do for just domestic titles, so winning this year is paramount. That being said, on paper they are the most talented team in Europe and are playing well at the moment. This is their pool to lose. They are currently at the top of the French standings.
• Sale are at the bottom of the Premiership and there is no indication they are about to move up. With their league survival in the balance, European glory will come second this year.
• Montpellier are currently fourth in the Top 14 and are looking to Europe to prove they are a top team. They did not have a successful campaign last season and finished at the bottom of their group. It looks like that will change this year, but knocking off Toulon is another question.
• Cardiff made the quarterfinals and could do so again this year, but first they’ll have to shake off their form which sees them sit seventh in the RaboDirect Pro12 table. They lost Genthin Jenkins to rivals Toulon and had Martyn Williams retire. With the subtractions, it may be hard to see them getting out of the group.
Fixtures: 14 October: Sale vs. Cardiff, Toulon vs. Montpellier
Predictions: In all likelihood the three other teams will be looking to Sale to pick up points and then fight it out amongst each other for top spot. Overall, Toulon are too good and too focused this year not to win the group.
So to recap, here are the predicted group winners: Saracens, Toulouse, Harlequins, Ulster, Clermont, and Toulon; runners-up: Leinster and Northampton.
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.